The Halo Effect by Anne D. LeClaire



A father shaken by tragedy tries to avenge his daughter’s murder—and restore his family’s shattered life.


It should have been a typical October evening for renowned artist Will Light at his home in the picturesque seaside town of Port Fortune. Over a dinner of lamb tagine, his wife, Sophie, would share news about chorus rehearsals for the upcoming holiday concert, and their teenage daughter, Lucy, would chatter about French club and field hockey. Only that night, Lucy would never come home.
Days later, her body would be found in the woods, and the police investigation into her killer would turn up nothing.
From bestselling author Anne D. LeClaire comes The Halo Effect, a riveting thriller that follows Will in his search to find his daughter’s murderer – and to exact revenge.
Will’s pursuit is interrupted by a local priest, Father Gervase, who commissions him to paint portraits of saints for a new cathedral. Using the townspeople as models, Will sees in each face the potential for evil. Are one of these saints the killer he seeks?
As Will navigates his rage and heartbreak, Sophie tries to move on; Father Gervase becomes an unexpected ally; and Rain, Lucy’s best friend, shrouds herself in a near-silent fugue as she struggles to hold her best friend’s secrets safe. Their paths collide in a series of inextricably linked events, revealing a hidden danger that could lead to their undoing… or to their redemption.

About the Author


Bestselling author Anne D. LeClaire has written eight novels, including Entering Normal, The Lavender Hour, and Leaving Eden, as well as her critically acclaimed memoir, Listening Below the Noise: The Transformative Power of Silence. Known for her exquisite and lyrical writing, the former op-ed columnist has been published in Redbook, the Boston Globe, Yoga Journal, and the New York Times.
A Distinguished Fellow at the Ragdale Foundation, LeClaire teaches creative-writing workshops around the globe. She is also a dynamic speaker—leading popular seminars and workshops Holyoke College, the University of Tennessee, and Columbia College and was a featured presenter at the Lincoln Center.
A former reporter, print journalist, radio broadcaster, and private pilot, LeClaire lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she leads silent retreats, practices yoga, and plays the washboard.

Find out more about his author on her website: 
www.anneleclaire.com

A Conversation with Anne D. LeClaire 

Q: In your new novel The Halo Effect, grief-stricken father Will Light is commissioned to paint a series of saints' portraits for the town's cathedral in the midst of dealing with his daughter's murder. What inspired the idea?

A: I never know where an idea will come from. Sometimes they come from dreams as did two of my novels, sometimes a newspaper article can be the spark. The inspiration for The Halo Effect came from a documentary I watched one day about the tapestries of the saints in the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. These immense tapestries were created by digitally transforming oil paintings by the artist John Nava into a program from which master weavers in Bruges, Belgium could create the finished frescolike tapestries. Nava, in the custom of artists over centuries, had used townspeople for some of the paintings. I found the portraits of the actual people who posed – a fisherman, a young boy, a barista, a sculptor, men and women of all ages and ethnicities – and their juxtaposition with the finished tapestries haunting. The evening after I saw the documentary, I attended the symphony and as I gazed around the concert hall, I began to see the faces of those around me as saints. I started to think of Nava and how spending months and months seeing ordinary people as saints must have affected him, how he must have been changed by the experience. One morning I woke and was struck with this premise, the magical “What If . . .” of storytellers: What if an artist had begun to paint his townspeople as saints and, unknown to him, one of them was the person who had murdered his daughter.

Q: A major theme in this book is that of grief, and how processing grief is a deeply personal experience. What would you say to readers who might not agree with Will's rage? Or his wife Sophie's activism?

A: I have long been interested in grief and how we process it. Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each individual experiences grief in profoundly personal ways and we never know how we will react when swept up by sorrow and deep loss or what our timetable for mourning will be. 
I once read a quote by Oscar Wilde, “Where there is grief, there is sacred ground.” This thought, that in sorrow we are traversing holy territory where deep soul work is being done has been a guiding principle as I wrote the book. A parallel theme for me was how violence affects a community, a family, and individuals and what is the cost of violence in our society.

Q: You switch between three perspectives: Will, Father Gervase, and Rain LaBrea. How did you decide to write Will in first-person but the priest and Rain in third? Of all the people affected by Lucy's murder, why did you want to tell these characters' stories?

A: From the first imaginings of the novel, I knew it was Will’s story and so the first-person narrative seemed right for him because of the intimacy it creates between him and the reader. I knew the dark recesses of his heart had to be revealed and his voice could do that most effectively. I thought the entire story would be in his voice, but as often happens, the characters make some of the decision and both Rain and Father Gervase wanted a say. In fact, from the opening line of Chapter One – “First they sent the priest” – it was clear to me that Father Gervase would become a central figure.
These three not only propelled the plot but also informed the themes. In different stages of their lives – a grieving father, an aging priest and a teenage girl – they allowed me to reveal more fully Lucy’s character and that of Port Fortune as well as explore different experiences of grief and the complicated relationship between grief and guilt.

Q: Will, Father Gervase, and Rain are all dealing with some kind of ailment that straddles the physical and the emotional. Will's hearing loss, Father Gervase's lack of focus and light headedness, and Rain's self-injury. What did these different personal struggles represent to you?

A: In the first scene, Will misheard a word that Father Gervase spoke and it struck me as humorous. Then I thought of it as a symptom of his withdrawing, and only later, while in the midst of writing, did I learn that soldiers returning from war often experienced this and it was a symptom of PTSD. Father Gervase’s struggles were in part a result of aging. Rain’s cutting was a way to gain some form of control over her fear and in a way to assuage her guilt.

Q: Would you say The Halo Effect is a hopeful book? What message do you hope it leaves with its readers?

A: I find it tremendously hopeful and life affirming. We do go on. We go on in the face of unimaginable loss. Mired in the deepest despair, there are lifelines that can save us. Art, poetry, faith, friendship, the decision, as in the case of Sophie, to find meaning in tragedy.
In Edgar Lee Masters’ classic, Spoon River Anthology, the character of Lucinda Matlock says, “It takes life to love life.” To choose to love life, despite all the losses and sorrows and messiness, is an act of courage and gives me enormous hope. I was interested to read that Nava believed the theme of the tapestries to be one of hope.

Q: And lastly, what is the halo effect?

A: The term “halo effect” was coined by the psychologist Edward Thorndike meaning how an observer’s impressions form a cognitive bias that influences feeling and thoughts and the perception of others. I thought about John Nava painting the portraits of his fellow townspeople, working month after month, seeing them as saints, and wondered if that altered his feelings and thoughts and perceptions, if he began to see in the faces of others in his daily life the possibility of goodness. A sort of Halo Effect.

PROLOGUE 

Every day is ordinary. Until it isn’t.

On this early October morning, the townspeople in Port Fortune wake before dawn to an ordinary day with its ordinary sounds: the groaning of trawlers straining against lines in the mistshrouded harbor, the metallic chorus of gear being loaded on board underscored by the fog-muted early morning conversation of men, the deep-throated tolling of the marker buoy in the outer harbor, and over at Cape Port Ice the drone of the giant ice-making machines. They wake, too, to the town’s ordinary smells: at the docks the distinct miasma of salt air, diesel fuel, ripe bait and mug-up coffee, and at the Loaves of the Fisherman Bakery on Prospect Street the aroma of anise, cardamom, and sugar, yeast and Frialator oil and cappuccino, scents so thick they nearly coat the air. These everyday noises and smells are not dissimilar to those of her sister fishing ports along the northeast coast and yet are somehow so particular to this place that a lost and sightless child could find her way home. At the police station, the shift changes and Detective Dan Gordon retrieves his service revolver from his locker where he has stored it since the birth of their daughter the year before. His wife insists on this precaution. Holly no longer wants a gun in the house, not even one he swears he always unloads and secures in the small gun safe in the basement. He is not unsympathetic to her request. Even in this small town, he has seen the sorrow caused by guns that are believed to be unloaded, not to mention the grief resulting from those deliberately loaded and fired in hot passion or cold foresight. At the Church of the Holy Apostles, Father Paul Gervase unlocks the front door and prepares for early Mass amid the comforting aroma of incense, wax and the oil soap Mrs. Mason uses on the worn oak floor. Not long ago, the church was kept unlocked but a recent up-tick in crime changed that. The local paper ran a series about the town’s growing drug problem, particularly the oxycontin scourge that has led to a heroin epidemic, the lead story for a week until it was crowded off the front page by reports about nearly a dozen girls at the local high school getting pregnant. The world is changing and no one knows this more than Father Gervase. He waits for the first parishioners to arrive, Italian and Portuguese wives and widows for the most part, holding tight to the rituals of a lifetime as if by this they can slow a world spinning beyond their control. At Port Fortune High School, Wayne Jervis, the custodian who moonlights part time doing work at the Holy Apostle, arrives and turns up thermostats. He unlocks classroom doors and then enters the faculty lounge where he switches on the automatic coffee machine and adds water and grounds. Lastly, as he does every week day, he goes to the girls’ locker room. The bitches’ locker room. He knows what they call him behind his back. Jervis the Pervis. Bitches. In recent months, nine of them have become pregnant and despite the denials by the school principal, the girls, and their parents, a rumor persists that these are deliberate decisions, the result of a pact among the girls. Bitches. Sluts. Whores. The lot of them. If they are so hungry for cock, he’d be happy to show them what a real man can do. Jervis enters a stall and takes a long piss, leaving the seat up and toilet unflushed when he is done. At the Loaves of the Fisherman, Manny Costa, Leon Newell, Caesar Amero, and Portuguese Joe arrive early. The four have spent a lifetime rising before dawn and although they no longer fish, the old habits die hard. At their regular table, they drink coffee, eat sweet rolls and talk about the things that occupy their conversation every morning: the weather, town politics, how maybe the foreign fleets haven’t completely killed the industry but the restrictions of new federal fishing regulations surely will. Gradually the fog lifts and the sun inches upward, striating the horizon and casting a roseate glow over the eastern sky, the harbor and ice house, the station, the bakery, other businesses and homes. Slowly the rest of the town awakes. On Chandler Street, Rain LaBrea hears her brother revving the engine of the third hand, piece of crap Mazda he thinks is such a big deal and curses him for not waiting to give her a ride to school. She texts her friend Lucy about how she now will have to take the bus like the dweebs do. There is no use complaining to her parents unless she’s up to enduing one more lecture about how she should get up earlier if she wants Duane to give her a ride. Duane, the Golden Boy who can do no harm.
Across town, on Governors Street, Sophie Light raps twice on her daughter’s door. “Lucy? Are you up?” She listens for a moment and, reassured by the noises inside the room, she descends to the kitchen and crosses to where Will is pouring coffee into two mugs and brushes his cheek with her lips, smoothes an unruly lock of hair with her fingers, cowlick that spin in a counterclockwise directions that not even a comb and application of hair tonic could tame. “What time did you finally come to bed?” she asks. “Around midnight. The game went into overtime.” He hands one of the mugs to her. “Did I wake you?” “I was so wiped last night I wouldn’t have moved if Hannibal and his elephants bivouacked in the room.” She takes a sip of coffee, smiles her thanks. “So who won?” “Green Bay.” “Is that good?” “Not for Chicago.” He starts to say more but at that instant he hears Lucy coming down the stairs. When their daughter enters the kitchen, his smile of anticipation morphs into a frown as he observes the snugness of her sweater, the length of her skirt that in his mind should be illegal, then intercepts a look from Sophie. Let it go. She’s accused Will of being overly protective. What would you prefer she wear? A caftan? she recently asked him. Clearly she is better at handling their daughter’s nascent sexuality than he but doesn’t she understand that a man’s central purpose and desire is to protect those he loves. Now he looks at the contours of Lucy’s breasts and her long thighs still tinged with last of her summer tan. Their daughter is developing into a beauty on the cusp of womanhood but it seems to Will she is remarkably innocent of the power this will give her. Yes, a caftan would be fine with him. They eat what he has prepared. Cold cereal with sliced banana. Sophie pours them a second mug of coffee. Lucy gulps O.J. They sit in a comfortable domestic silence broken only by the faint tapping of Lucy’s thumbs on her iPhone, the digits moving faster than Will would think possible on the screen’s miniature keys and icons. If he’d done this at the table, his father would have cut off his hands. He wishes they would ban those things. Cell phones, social networking, Facebook, Twitter - ridiculous name. All the things pulling their daughter from them. He starts to speak but gets another look from Sophie. Let it go. Then, as if a switch has flipped, the morning ritual ends and there is a flurry signaling departure. Sophie grabs her briefcase. At the door, she turns to ask, “Shall I stop on the way home and pick up dinner at the Kottage Kitchen?” “I’ve got tonight covered,” Will says. Lucy kisses his cheek and he smells the banana on her breath, inhales the apple-scented shampoo of her hair, the sweet fruitiness of her and knows a moment of fear and again the desire to protect her from danger large or small. “Bye, Da,” she says in a voice still morning husky. He nods his goodbye. He kisses Sophie, a lingering kiss that draws a mock sigh from Lucy and a “Hey, you guys, I’m still in the room,” but when he looks over at her, she is grinning. Then they are gone and he resumes the morning rituals, wiping off the table, stacking dishes, turning off the coffee, already slipping into his own day, thinking now of the painting waiting upstairs on the easel, the supplies he’ll need to order before the weekend. It is Tuesday, the day Sophie holds after-school rehearsal for the chorus and Lucy stays late for the French club, then a field hockey scrimmage. Eight hours stretch before him, an ocean of quiet with no husbandly or fatherly obligations, and he feels a fleeting twinge of guilt at the pleasure the idea of this brings him. An ordinary day in Port Fortune. Until it isn’t. Until Lucy Light doesn’t come home.

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